Facts from the Farm

stack of pancakes on white background

Hi Folks,

We are in the still of winter with a blanket of snow on the ground. When most people think of snow, they think of activities like skiing, cross country skiing, sled riding, snowtubing, and even making snow angels. But it’s also the time for maple syrup producers across the northeastern United States and Canada to get ready for another maple syrup season. And Pennsylvania has a big part to play.

Maple syrup production has spanned centuries with the practices of preparation, gathering the maple water, boiling or cooking, bottling, selling, and enjoying it on tables across America.

The best trees to tap are sugar maples, which are found in abundance in Pennsylvania. You begin tapping by either drilling or driving a small hole to install a small tube called a spile into the trees to vent the maple sap or water. The water is gathered in buckets or in a network of plastic tubes, which end up in the maple house, where it is processed into maple syrup.

The production really begins in the late fall and early winter when the maple trees store starch in their trunks to prepare for the winter period. Giving the right temperature in late winter and early spring, which can span 4-8 weeks, each year is important. Maple producers want to see below freezing temperatures at night and around 40 degrees during the day. The trees will never give anymore of the sap or water than it can without harming themselves.

It takes 40-50 gallons of maple water to make one gallon of syrup. Maple water is 2% sugar and 98% water and then is boiled down to a concentration of 65% maple sugar. The cooking and boiling process is achieved by heating with either hardwood, natural gas or propane, which is all very costly.

Modern approaches like reverse osmosis for producing maple syrup separates the maple water from the natural sugar, minerals and other impurities into a more concentrated maple liquid to finish by boiling or cooking into maple syrup. Another modern approach is to use a stainless-steel turbo evaporator that can do the cooking process in one hour instead of the 18-24 hours over an open flame or fire.

Maple syrup comes in different grades, and in most cases, it depends on the times of the maple season. Maple syrup is graded based on light transmission through the syrup. Grade A is a lighter amber, which generally comes from early to midseason. Grade B is a darker amber, which is more robust in both color and flavor and generally comes in late season. Some maple syrup producers are finding that customers’ tastes are moving toward darker amber or Grade B because it has a stronger maple flavor.

Maple producers say their worst enemy is the porcupine as it likes to chew on the plastic tubing or lines. A good natural predator for the porcupine is the fisher or fisher cat, a type of carnivorous weasel. Nature does have a balance.

So, if you think maple syrup is expensive, maybe tap a couple of maple trees, gather the maple water, buy or make a heatbased evaporator and either cut and split a cord of wood or use natural gas or propane to cook and boil the maple water down to make the precious maple syrup.
It may be cheaper and easier to stop by our farm market for some of the Grade A and B maple syrup found in pints, quarts, half-gallon and one-gallon sizes produced by Jeff Yatzor from his working farm in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, from the northwest region of Pennsylvania. Yatzor’s is having its 20th Maple Weekend, March 13-14, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Feel free to stop by Eichner’s Whole Farm and Greenhouse and experience Farm Fresh at 285 Richard Road, Wexford, and get the “rest of the story.”